adult dyslexic

Photo of Headstrong Nation Board Chair Larry Banks

A Vision for Headstrong Nation - Thoughts from Larry Banks

Larry Banks is Headstrong Nation's Board Chairman. He has a passion for the organization and for his fellow dyslexics. Larry shares his vision of Headstrong Nation below.

"We are reinventing Headstrong Nation as an internationally known strong voice for adult dyslexics. Dyslexia is a lifelong profile that does not end with graduation. Dyslexic children grow up to be dyslexic adults, and although many of us have managed our profiles and have become successful in the eyes of society, many more of us are struggling, under-appreciated, full of shame and self-recrimination for having intelligence which is obscured by reading or attention issues that are misunderstood.

In children, this neurological difference is exacerbated by the conditions within schools that have the tendency to only recognize one form of intelligence. As these children get older they learn to avoid situations which might expose their differences. When we feel ashamed, much of our energy goes towards hiding and avoiding notice.

Headstrong Nation wishes to be a lighthouse, a beacon that can be seen from anywhere to offer shelter, community, acknowledgment, acceptance, and support. We have gone through the most difficult part of our lives. Now it is time to develop our strengths, come out of hiding, and express our unique profiles. For some, this will be big and for others this will be small. It begins with self-acceptance and the release of shame for being different, and of being able to move beyond the prejudices and pain from being labeled stupid. Together, we can become a counteractive force within society.

Headstrong Nation is here to serve as an oasis, a developing community which offers a virtual space that adult dyslexics can call home, and as an active orientation to help young adults within our community find their way and develop their true voice."

Larry Banks - dyslexia. #WeOwnIt

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles. - Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - June, 2015

If you'd like to help support us in fulfilling our mission for the adult dyslexic, please consider becoming a member of Headstrong Nation. You may sign up here to be included in our #WeOwnIt campaign mailing.(Note: 4/29/16 - Campaign has ended but donations are needed to support our work. You may donate at our RAZOO PAGE HERE:https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation After signing up, please take a moment to spread the word to your family and friends via social media using the tag #WeOwnIt. Thank you! - The Headstrong Nation Team

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Headstrong is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax ID 47-0925290.

Headstrong Nation banner graphic for membership sign up

Dear friends of Headstrong Nation,

For far too long, we, as adult dyslexics, have let others set our agenda. We believe that to create real change we need to unite and create an organization that is run by dyslexics, for dyslexics, and funded by dyslexics.

On November 9th, we re-image Headstrong Nation as a member driven organization. Today we need you to sign up & express your interest in joining when we launch. This will allow us to secure critical funding to cover operational overheads to re-launch Headstrong Nation.

Sign up at this link: www.headstrongnation.org/weownitsignup (NOTE: 4/29/16 - Campaign has ended)

Please consider donating to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. Donate at our RAZOO PAGE HERE: https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation

Please spread the message on social media that you have signed up and use the tag #WeOwnIt.

Thank you very much!


Headstrong is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax ID 47-0925290.

Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel - Thanks, The Headstrong Nation Team

Headstrong Nation banner followed by Headstrong Nation membership campaign #we own it  by dyslexics for dyslexics funded by dyslexics Nov9 we need your support and help are you in? www.headstrongnation.org/membership

Headstrong Nation Membership Campaign

You may be asking yourself, what does #WeOwnIt mean, and how does this relate to my dyslexia and to Headstrong Nation? Headstrong Nation will begin a new membership campaign on November 9th. What this means for our organization and for you, is that we are ready to move forward with our revised mission, which is stated below.

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles. (June, 2015)

On November 9th, Headstrong Nation is an organization which is designed for adult dyslexics, by adult dyslexics. In other words, #WeOwnIt.

We would like you to have a voice in the evolution of Headstrong Nation, to take your seat at the table, and we need your help financially so we may begin to fulfill our mission.

What does it mean to “own” your dyslexia? To own your dyslexia means you understand your individual dyslexic profile. Each dyslexic is unique, although we typically share a common struggle with text in many forms. To own your dyslexia means you won’t let yourself be limited by text or other barriers which hold you back from success. You won’t let yourself be described solely by what you struggle with, because you are so much more than your struggles.

To own your dyslexia means you have made a fair and thorough assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. You maintain a teachable attitude and you are always working on ways to learn and work more efficiently. To own your dyslexia means you embrace the wide range of assistive technologies available to you, and you’ve begun to create a tool box of helpful apps and products which will help you on a daily basis.

You understand that to truly thrive, you must find out what works for you as an individual. You will not let yourself be merely defined by what you cannot do, but will explore what is actually possible for you. To own your dyslexia means that you understand the value of asking for help when needed. You know how to honestly self-advocate and you spread awareness about your dyslexic profile to those you feel comfortable with to help enable them to understand the varied strengths and challenges associated with it.

You desire to be part of a community of other adults who will understand you, who will lift you up, and who will embrace you on your journey.

We want you to join us at the table as a voice for positive change for the adult dyslexic, so we may explore together what is possible for us in learning, work, and life.

Please join us as a member of Headstrong Nation. We'd love it if you could tell you family and friends about us too and ask for their help! We thank you for considering our invitation, and we’d appreciate your financial support during our first official membership campaign which will enable us to more effectively address the needs of the adult dyslexic. Spread the word using the hashtag #WeOwnIt.

Become a member of Headstrong Nation! We invite you to be a voice in your future! – Join Now NOTE: 4/29/2016- Our formal membership campaign has ended, but you may donate to support our work at https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation

Thank you very much! The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Headstrong Nation Board and Staff

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photo of a half full glass of water on surface

Dyslexia - Half Full or Half Empty?

Dyslexia... It's all in how you look at it. It's all in how you look at you. What's your perspective as an adult with dyslexia? Is your glass half full or half empty? Do you see limited or unlimited possibilities for yourself? Are you a victim or a victor? What responsibility might you take in improving your situation and changing your destiny, and how might you, as an adult dyslexic, raise awareness as a voice for change for other adult dyslexics?
The choice is yours... You have more power than you know.
photo of trees in fall, beginning to change

Dyslexia Awareness Month

October has been designated as Dyslexia Awareness Month. Many dyslexia organizations and individuals are rallying together and raising their collective voices to create change for the number of children who struggle with dyslexia/LD in public schools. The momemtum builds. Proclamations are announced. T-shirts are donned, screenings are viewed, visits to elected officials are scheduled. Legislation is drafted, walks are held, and bridges are lit up red. There is a flurry of activity and initiatives surrounding our youngest ones, the 1 in 5. The celebration goes on!

So, What About Us? What about the Adult Dyslexic?

For those of us who live with dyslexia or another LD every day, we truly understand the reality that dyslexic children grow into dyslexic adults. We fully appreciate and can relate to the phrase, "Once a dyslexic, always a dyslexic." Depending on where we are in our individual journeys, we may or may not be OK with the word dyslexia. Some of us don't like the label dyslexic, and prefer the word difference. Some prefer to be referred to as neurodiverse. One individual may view their profile as a gift or advantage, another as a disability. On those days when we feel that our challenges seem to outnumber our strengths, we may wish we had never heard of the word dyslexia. We may want to trade in our troubles vs. embrace them, work with them, or work around them. Dyslexia is personal. Some days really stink for the dyslexic, and on those days for those of us who are also parents of children with dyslexia or other learning and attention issues, we get to live some days twice, through seeing how dyslexia plays out in our kids' daily lives as well.

What It Is and What It Isn't

Dyslexia is not something to be overcome or beaten. Nor is dyslexia something to run away from. We get this. Many of us have spent much of our lives attempting to hide our disability from others, living in shame, feeling less than. We also realize that however frustrating the challenges related to our dyslexia might be, our dyslexia is part of the fabric of who we are as individuals. If we choose to embrace our dyslexic identities, to accept the good, the bad and the ugly of our dyslexia, we stand a better chance to live more successful and happier lives. Dyslexia is not something to sugar coat. Dyslexia is neither a gift nor is it a curse. It is a trait. It is a difference which is neurobiological in origin, and it does have it's advantages in addition to it's disadvantages. And, like it or not, it is a disability in some contexts in daily life, in educational systems, and in the world of work. Dyslexia represents the cards which we are dealt. We can't change the cards we are dealt, just how we choose to play our hand. We have some choice in the matter.

"Comparison Is the Death of Joy" - Mark Twain

Comparing oneself to the newest most famous "dyslexic du Jour" in the media may not be all that healthy for the adult dyslexic who is under or unemployed. If might not be beneficial for the high school kid who barely scraped by and has little direction, or for the college student who has four or more years to go in a system where many continue to be ignorant of or to doubt the existence of dyslexia, or of the potential of the person who has it.
Not all dyslexics will be able to achieve the high levels of success of the latest entrepreneur, Nobel Laureate, or blockbuster movie star, and this is OK. Success and satisfaction will look and feel different for each person. It's important to have a starting point, however, to identify individual strengths and attitudes surrounding dyslexia, to set reasonable goals, and to strive to be the best version of yourself, for yourself.

Not All Dyslexics are Self-Aware

Some dyslexics may never know that they are dyslexic. This unidentified and underserved group may go through life never reaching their full potential. This dyslexic may feel perpetually out of place, out of sync, in life and in work, with a gnawing feeling that something is missing, and somehow he'll never be good enough. The issues arising from unidentified and unsupported adult dyslexia are numerous and may have serious consequences. The dyslexic may feel defeated, have a low self-esteem, and may not have that chance to show what he knows in the workplace or educational setting. Unrecognized and unaddressed difficulties on the job or in school for the adult dyslexic may contribute to a loss of employment, dropping out, financial issues, mental health issues and in a worst-case scenario, substance abuse or a life of crime.

What Dyslexia Looks Like in The Adult

Dyslexia may look like this in the adult:
  • The adult dyslexic 16+ may continue to be a slow reader, and will therefore avoid reading tasks in general, reading for pleasure and may hide their struggles.
  • Handwriting may appear messy with many spelling errors.
  • Organizing ideas in the written form may be difficult. Jobs requiring heavy written communication may be difficult and tiring, requiring much time to complete.
  • Directionality, left right, up and down orientation, sense of time, reading from a clock, remembering passwords, and following multi-step directions may be compromised.
  • Time management may be an issue.
  • Anxiety, stress, and feeling overwhelmed on the job or in school is common.
  • The individual may opt for jobs which are lower paying which do not require a high amount of heavy reading, writing, mathematics abilty, or other tasks they find challenging, although the person is of average or above average intelligence, and might be able to master a more complex job if provided the right support.
Photo of tree with leaves changing, many colors, red, yellow, orange

Fall Is A Season Of Change. Working To Become Our Best Dyslexic Selves.

For those of us who are in touch with our dyslexic identities, it is important that we focus on being our best selves. Success is relative, and it is never too late to re-evaluate and make positive change in our own lives to reach new levels of success we hadn't thought possible. Advocating for yourself and asking for help is important. By serving as role models through speaking up about our own challenges and also the strengths associated with dyslexia, we may inspire others to raise their voices too. That's how movements are started. That's how change begins.
For those of us whose geography permits us to view the changing of the leaves in this season of fall, we are treated to a variety of colors. Fall is a great time to reflect on the past, to evaluate the present and to plan for the future. During this month of October, of Dyslexia Awareness, it might be helpful to take some time to do this for ourselves.
In the coming weeks, we'll discuss some thoughts on how to guide your steps to be your best dyslexic self.

Any questions? Contact us at our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/headstrongnation. We're not experts, but we’ll do what we can to point you to resources and to answer any questions that you may have. You may also follow us on Twitter, https://twitter.com/headstrongnatio and on Pinterest.

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, understand it, and develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

If you'd like to help support us in fulfilling our mission for the adult dyslexic, please consider donating to Headstrong Nation by clicking on the DONATE BUTTON at the top of the page. Thank you! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Headstrong is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax ID 47-0925290.

Jim McCarthy realized that his true passion was found in creating art. He’s a self-taught artist, and is currently pursuing a degree in art at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork, Ireland. Jim agreed to collaborate on an interview for Headstrong Nation and the following are responses to questions about his life, both past and present, as a creative dyslexic man on a mission to spread awareness and change how dyslexia is viewed by the public.

photo of artist Jim McCarthy with paintings

(Artist Jim McCarthy in his studio - Copyright, Jimmy McCarthy - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com)

Early Years.

My early years in school were very challenging and not a very pleasant experience. Corporal punishment was very prevalent, and I often found myself on the receiving end. I don’t think dyslexia or other SpLDs were fully understood. There wasn’t any specific help given to a person with dyslexia at that time. I enjoyed certain aspects of school, but always wanted to leave and find a job as early as possible. I left school at the age of 14/15 and then worked in construction for over 30 years as a carpenter/joiner.

Jim McCarthy's sculpture entitled fighting with words- Sculpted image of man cut out of pages in a book arms raised in fighting stance Portrait of a grieving mother wearing veil, dust covered painting of antique Morris automobile entitled "Redundant Morris" by Jim Mccarthy

(From left: Fighting With Words - Medium: Paper Sculpture, Grieving Mother - Oil on Canvas 40cm x 40cm, and Redundant Morris - Oil on Linen 240mm x 300mm - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com)

Self Evaluation and Higher Education.

In 2012 due to a major recession in Ireland, I found myself out of work for the first time. I applied for jobs in everything I could, but never had any luck in securing long-term work as the lowest qualification for work in factories was a degree. Looking at my skills, I decided that the best path to get a degree would be in the arts. I have always had a passion for art. In order to achieve my goal of getting accepted into art college. I first had to attend a college of further education due to my leaving school so young. I found I was strong in the practical subjects, but found the academic subjects to be a serious challenge for me.

Inspiration and Information.

After about two months, I attended a lecture and viewed a documentary about the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg spoke openly about his dyslexia. I could relate to everything he had to say. After this lecture I went and spoke to staff at the disability support service, who sent me for an educational psychology assessment. The assessment confirmed that I had specific learning disabilities that significantly affected my ability to access the college curriculum. The psychologist congratulated me, stating my IQ was well above average and this was probably the reason why I wasn’t identified earlier.

Painting entitled The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - (What do you see?) - Oil on Canvas 200mm Diameter - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com )

The Truth Can Set You Free. The Education System Let Me Down.

Truthfully, I suppose I always knew I was different and suspected I had dyslexia. When I got the results, I found the information freeing and liberating. It was like my past life made sense and everything fitted together. In addition to feeling liberated by understanding my dyslexia, I also felt angry and betrayed by the education system because it had not acknowledged that picture thinking people learn differently than linear thinking people. I had only wished that all of my old teachers were there to witness the results. After figuring out how I learned, I used this information to study my academic subjects. At the end of my time at this college, I had achieved top grades and was later accepted as a 2nd year direct entry student into a Fine Art Degree course at Crawford College of Art and Design.

Daily Challenges and The Need for Public Awareness of Dyslexia.


As an adult with dyslexia, I have found that there are still major challenges for me. I have found that society and education systems are designed specifically for the linear thinker. I believe it is essential for the public to be educated about dyslexia as this would help to alleviate any misconceptions. Dyslexia is not just about reading or writing. Dyslexic people tend to have a different perspective of the world. They have a gift of viewing problems from multiple angles. I find I can visualize the end product and most of the time, foresee any problems that might occur, even before any work has begun.

Tools I Use.

I use certain tools to help me work more efficiently. I use Dragon Dictate, Read and Write Gold and a LiveScribe Pen . I would recommend any of these to help dyslexics. Because I am a visual learner, I also use documentaries to learn the information I need.

Hand cut image of a distorted fountain entitled Distorted Fountain by artist Jim Mccarthy

Distorted Fountain - Hand Cut Image - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com

Art as a Constant and a Solace.

Art has always been a constant part of my life, and no matter what life had to throw at me, it has been my solace. My earliest memories of doing art are when I lived with my grandparents, sitting at their kitchen table drawing what I saw in books or around me. Later while going to school I would get disciplined by teachers for drawing on my copybooks or school books.

Frustration - Holism Art painting of man covering his ears screaming out in frustration by Artist Jim McCarthy

(Frustration - Oil on Canvas 405 x 557 - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com)

Holism Art and Concepts as Related to Dyslexia.

“Holism Art” is a name I came up with for my art. People with dyslexia think and view the world holistically and are primarily picture thinkers. Rather than using self-talk (words, sentences, or internal dialogue), they specialize in mental or sensory imagery. This method of thinking is subliminal. Since dyslexic people think in pictures or imagery, they tend to use global logic and reasoning strategies. looking at the big picture to understand the world around them. Thinking primarily with images, dyslexic people also tend to develop very strong imaginations. They use a picture or feeling based reasoning process to solve problems rather than a verbal one. If they are at first confused (or intrigued), they will mentally move around an object and look at it from different viewpoints or angles. From this thought process, they develop many unique abilities and talents. For this reason and others, I believe ‘Holism Art’ is the appropriate name for my art.

Painting of English Market - Cork Painting of Paul Street by Artist Jim McCarthy

(From left: Margadh Bearla, Sraid an Phrionsa, Corcaigh 2011 (English Market, Princes St., Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24", and Sraid Pholl, Corcaigh 2011 (Paul Street, Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24"- artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com

The Power of Art and Success as an Artist.

Art is more than something on a wall or a sculpture, it has the power to change things and bring joy. Art can also start a discussion and educate. If you can gain some material wealth, experience job satisfaction and also help to change a person's outlook on life or help highlight an injustice, what more can you ask for of life? When I conceive an idea for a piece I never consider whether it will be successful or not. My first protocol is the concept and if it’s relevant to me. The second is how relevant it is to the world in which I live. Thirdly, do I have an emotional contact with the piece?

Of course it would be a dream come true to be a successful artist and to have a steady income to support my family. I have had a certain amount of success in which I have sold my art and have received commissions. I've also had my work in group exhibitions in Ireland and Brittany in France and have pieces in private and corporate collections in Ireland, England, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, New Zealand and United States. All of this has been achieved with no formal education in the arts.

Some of my art is inspired by my own life experiences. By using myself, I hope not to offend others. Many dyslexics can relate to this work and its emotional content. Through my work I have highlighted the injustices and discrimination against dyslexics and have been successful in creating discussion to challenge misconceptions.

After setting up my website earlier this year, I received thousands of views and much feedback from dyslexics, parents, families and friends of dyslexics from around the world. Some of my work has been used for educational purposes and through this work I have spoken to teenagers who dropped out of school early and are now going to return to college. If I had been told in 2011, while still working in construction, that I would find myself out of work, that I would return to college to pursue a degree, and that my art would help in some small way to change the perception of dyslexia, I would never have believed this.
What the future looks like.

Painting of Craftsman's Tools on table entitled "The Craftsman's Tools" by artist Jim McCarthy
(The Craftsman's Tools - Acrylic on MDF 455mm x 400mm - artistjimmccarthy.wordpress.com)

It is quite hard for me to think of the future, as like many dyslexics I have a problem with the concept of time. Since 2012, I have found myself back in the alien world of academia, where each day brings new challenges. I hope to achieve my goal of getting a degree, but where this will lead, I’m unsure! I really hope that along the way some doors will open for me and I might get that lucky break of becoming a successful artist. If not, I hope to secure a permanent job and continue making art as I have done previously. No matter what the outcome, I will continue to promote the positives of dyslexia through my art.

I believe it is very important for anyone who may be having problems or falling behind in school to get an educational psychology assessment. Because I really do believe dyslexia is a learning difference. Getting assessed for dyslexia has opened up a new world to me. Understanding and acknowledging my dyslexia and why I have to work so hard to achieve, has given me a better understanding of myself.

I think dyslexic people will always have to work harder to achieve in the linear world. However, with advancing technology and the help of science this may become an easier process in the future. Science, with the help of MRI scans, has proven that the dyslexic brain is different and is wired differently. Dyslexia is an invisible disability which needs to be understood completely, and until this occurs discrimination will continue against a portion of the population. Society needs holistic viewing people to enhance the world and help in the future of our society.

Jim McCarthy, September, 2015

Jim created a video entitled -This Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From The Tree - (SpLDs and what can happen), illustrating what can occur if Specific Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia/DCD, ADHD, 2e-Twice Exceptional) are not identified early and whose needs are not met.

You can view Jim's uniquely personal and meaningful artwork and read his blog HERE.

Please LIKE us on Facebook and FOLLOW us on Twitter. Thank You! The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Us Capitol with text Taking it to the Hill DD-national Hill Day 2015

Photo Credit - David Acker, 2015

Decoding Dyslexia National representatives will be joining with other organizations for Hill Day, 2015, at the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, July 14-15. DD Representatives will be advocating for positive change for dyslexic children and their families. They will meet with legislators, and will tell their stories. Moms will speak, and dads will speak. Children will speak. They will discuss their individual stories of struggle. They will raise awareness on dyslexia and will self-advocate. They will discuss their strengths and the resiliency that they have developed as a result of their dyslexia. They will ask congressmen and senators to help all dyslexic children in schools through supporting dyslexia legislation regarding the early screening and evidence-based intervention that can help them thrive in the classroom. They will call for teacher training programs and professional development on how to screen and effectively instruct students with dyslexia. They will discuss the need for assistive technology and how it levels the playing field for children with dyslexia/LD, so that kids like themselves can keep pace with their peers and thrive as successful students. They will discuss the challenges that the dyslexic individual may experience beyond the K-12 years, into college, and as adult dyslexics in the workforce.

DD reps, their families, and others will come together as a united community, a movement, with a message for change.

Headstrong Nation supports the efforts of Decoding Dyslexia National and other organizations at this year's Hill Day 2015, and although we cannot be beside you physically as you advocate this year, we are behind you, and support your collective efforts as a force for positive change.

Wishing you all the best in "Taking it to The Hill". Let your voices be heard! - Headstrong Nation

Note: In Dec, 2013, Decoding Dyslexia Oregon hosted Headstrong Nation Founder Ben Foss, for a personal talk about dyslexia, his book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, and the tremendous growth and power of the Decoding Dyslexia movement. If you are interested in viewing the entire talk, you can do so HERE. Below is an excerpt entitled: "A Message for Change" - Get Empowered!

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement:

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

Please visit our Headstrong Nation Facebook Page, and like and share our content with your friends and family. Follow us on Twitter @Headstrongnatio. We are glad that you are part of our community!

Thank you! - The Headstrong Nation Team

NOTE: This is the second of two personals stories from our guest blogger "Anonymous", who describes individual academic and career struggles as a person with LD, and who has a desire to be part of a supportive community of other dyslexic/LD adults.

photo of cloud with text:  A career that wasn't - Photo by Eileen Tait-Acker

Photo by Eileen Tait-Acker


Everyone has issues in their life. One of my acquaintances had an eating disorder. Another friend struggles underneath the surface with the fact that she is adopted. One of mine as an adult has been my career. Or lack thereof.

When we go off to college we have a picture in our minds of the next twenty years of our careers. We spend our college years picking a major, having fun, learning everything from how to write a paper to how to live on our own for the first time. (This, of course is what it looks like for those with the “typical” college experience, which mine wasn’t). No matter what you major in, you graduate with a ‘here’s how it’s going to go’ plan.

I’ll get my first job (maybe I don’t even expect it to pay a lot of money); work my butt off, stay for a few years and move on to the next. The positions will get better with each new job, I’ll make more money with each new job, I’ll move up in the world one job at a time. Perhaps I even expect a few bumps along the way. I don’t expect all will go perfectly as planned but there will be progress with each job and as the years go by. Sound familiar?

This is the way it’s supposed to work right? But what does it look like when it doesn’t. This has been my life.

First and foremost I feel like a failure. Second I blame myself. What went wrong?

Is it the Learning Disability I didn’t know about or understand until I was in my twenties? Over the years I have wondered often how much this particular issue has influenced my long struggle in jobs or with building a solid career for myself. All the LD organizations promote and champion people who ‘struggle though, overcome and become successful after a childhood discovery of a Learning Disability but nobody talks about the people who don’t. Those who drop out of high school or college. Those who get into trouble and wreck their lives in some way; drugs, alcohol, prison. Or even those who do everything right by graduating high school and college and still go through life in low paying, dead end jobs because they can’t get to that next step.

Many LD children and adults don’t fit the “normal” success model; It seems we (if you’ll allow me to speak for others) have enough pressure from the education system, colleges and employers to fit in, to get good test scores, to interview, get and do well in a career, to be the success I may not be, that I don’t want to feel it also coming from LD organizations when I am only shown people who do reach the “normal” success model.

Those of us with a Learning Disability are a varied group; some more successful than others, tell me that, show me examples of those people. I am supposed to feel inspired, hopeful, with an ‘if they can do it I can too’ attitude seeing all those success stories and hearing advice from these groups. Instead they remind me of my failure. The irony is that I have been invited twice to speak at a Learning Disabilities conference; twice I have had to back out because I was unemployed and broke at the time of each.

It’s possible my job difficulties don’t come from my LD. Is it what I majored in in college instead or where I went to college or that I no longer want to do that career I studied (although that doesn’t account for all the years before I felt that way)? Is it a terrible economy and job market that has lasted for years (also doesn’t account for the years before that)? Is it a job application process that is inefficient, ineffective, automated and inhuman among other things (we call it an internet black hole for a reason)? Is it just dumb luck (of which I’ve never had any)? Is it a mix of all of the above?

What I can tell you is it has not been for lack of ambition, lack of trying, lack of desire to have a good job or laziness. I have worked of course in the twenty years since I left high school. Many low paying jobs. Many part time jobs. Most not what I wanted. A couple full time positions that finally gave me enough money to live on but which I derived no satisfaction from my work. Lots of rejections. Or just as bad hearing nothing at all after an interview. These twenty years also include periodic unemployment for several years at a time. These times are much worse than the jobs I didn’t like.

The effects of this type of career path range from the practical; will I have enough money to live on?, How bad does it look on my resume to have one low paying, continual low level responsibility job after another? How bad do those years of unemployment look on my resume?, What are the chances of getting what is effectively an entry to mid-level job at my age, to the psychological; constant stress and worry, boredom beyond what school ever was, a huge hit to your self-confidence, constant doubt about your abilities and the choices I’ve made, fear that it won’t change, disappointment in myself and anger about all the wasted time. It’s a wonder sometimes that I’ve kept my sanity.

I admit I am my own worst judge. I don’t know why. But I have little appreciation for my struggle; for the things I have accomplished (my college degree being one of them), for the fact that I am still trying and I still want a job, or for any determination, resolve or strength that others see in what I have experienced.

And none of this takes into account how I really feel about my long struggle, myself, the state of hiring practices or the way potential employers treat applicants. Frankly I am sometimes so fed up and angry about this struggle it would probably surprise people if I expressed it. If someone were to ask how I keep going the only answer I could offer is, do I have another choice?

I keep thinking that a good well paying full time job that I enjoy will solve so many things for me. I can’t know that for sure since I haven’t had one but I can tell you for sure that not having one has been detrimental.

I am surrounded (and have been for years) by people and stories of people I don’t know living the picture I painted for myself in terms of their careers. Friends, acquaintances, scores of college alumni that I don’t know, even my boyfriend with a new job he got last year. It can be hard to listen to and watch the people in your life living what you didn’t have and don’t see in the near future. Some days I am jealous. Some days I am resentful. I would never wish my experience on any of them; I just want something more for myself.

Unfortunately I have never been surrounded by that helping hand or “chance” that is often talked about by those who are successful. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not looking for a hand-out. I am not looking for someone to give me a job I’m not qualified for. I am not even looking for sympathy in writing all this. I do not expect to be handed the perfect job, but sometimes this struggle feels ridiculous and stupid.

All I’ve ever wanted when it came to my career was a chance. A chance to prove that I am capable and can do something. To prove to myself and others that I am not stupid or lazy or a dozen other things I have thought about myself. To show the world (at least those in my world) that I am creative, resourceful, empathic, and can be successful. Somebody at the hundreds of good jobs that I’ve applied to and interviewed with to say YES!

What I found in all these years is that a career or even a job search is never a straight line to employment or success. My path has been difficult, interrupted and varied; I don’t (and have never) fit your perfect cookie cutter mold. This does not mean that I wouldn’t be a phenomenal employee; a hard worker who is reliable, prescient and a problem solver. I am all those. I believe people want to be inspired by what they do as much as they want to make a contribution. I believe people will go above and beyond for an employer if they love what they do. An employer only has to give those us with this type of history a chance. I could be one of your best employees…

I can’t be the only person in this country to struggle to find and have a well-paid, successful, long lasting career. At least that’s what I tell myself. I can’t be alone in this.

I do not have the answers for how to solve my problem. If I did I would do whatever it is. And before you start making well-meaning suggestions, please reconsider. I know people mean well. My experience though has been that suggestions and advice are often not based on what works for the person they are talking to but for the giver. Or the advice ends up feeling like criticism.

Since I don’t know what to do, instead I fumble around for ideas to change something. I’ll move to a different part of the country. I’ll apply to different types of jobs than I applying to before. I’ll change my resume and cover letters. And with every difficult application or automated rejection I think I’ll write a book about what’s wrong with employers hiring practices these days. This, oddly enough has been what I’ve been doing with my free time recently; I wrote a book (fiction, not about hiring practices). Maybe one of these days I’ll publish it, become a wildly successful writer and stop living in the cycle you have been reading about.

Until then, here I am, continually trying; continually looking for a career that I haven’t had but very much want. I’ll give you a hand if you give me one…

- Anonymous


Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing your personal experiences with our community. - The Headstrong Nation Team


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Note: The following letter was submitted by a member of the Headstrong Nation community who would prefer to remain anonymous at this time. The writer discusses personal experiences living with a learning disability, and the desire to be a part of an inclusive and supportive community of other adults with dyslexia/LD. We appreciate this writer's honesty and willingness to share with us. - Eileen, Headstrong Nation

Photo of cloud with text: The learning disability I didn't understand

(Photo Credit: Eileen Tait-Acker)


Hi Eileen,

So I feel like I need to start with this; I hope this doesn't change anything but I need to clear something up. I am not Dyslexic. I have an auditory information processing disability. Whether it is appropriate or not other LD's get lumped into Dyslexia quite often (my guess is because it's the most common LD). One of the things I have learned through reading or listening to other people with an LD is that we all share similar "symptoms", experiences and feelings.

It has never been easy for me to talk about my Learning Disability (as I'm sure others have found the same) so know that I have taken a breath and am walking really far out of my comfort zone in doing this.

Although my mother was aware of my Learning Disability (and a speech impediment) when I was a child and teenager I did not know about or understand it the way I believe I should have. I was in my twenties before I got another diagnosis and then fully learned about and understood my LD. We could have an entire conversation about the negative feelings I have about that. But it is definitely why I'm so adamant about parents telling and helping kids to understand theirs as young as possible.

My inquiry to you about including personal stories to the website came about for two reasons; first because over the years since my (adult) diagnosis I have found that many LD organizations, 'experts', people giving LD advice usually talk about us instead of to us. To parents instead of the child with the LD. Speaking to adults with an LD seems to be even rarer (Or letting them speak for themselves). To me it seems the LD adult experience on any topic has been rare. (That is one of the reasons I like Headstrong Nation so much). :) Or everyone written about is a success story. Do A, B and C and your Learning Disabled child's school and later life will be a breeze. (Oh ok…) I have never understood those things. And I have always hated them. The other reason I asked about direct personal stories came out of frustration. Feeling frustrated one day last week I wrote my history on one topic. I've attached that experience about my life.

I always find it interesting and a little troublesome that LD organizations and others in the LD community concentrate so much on school. It’s important of course, and when you’re a child or to parents it seems like everything but the truth is more of our lives are spent as adults than the twelve (or sixteen with college) years that we spend in school. A learning disability (of any type) doesn’t go away; you just become an adult with a Learning Disability. And “symptoms” come with you (along with long held thoughts and feelings about yourself). Those things don’t seem to be addressed much.

Lower grade school through high school were difficult and trying and awful in numerous ways for me (yes I’ve got several ugly stories just like other LD adults do) but believe it or not college was much easier (academically anyway). I was in high school before I was placed into any type of consistent “special ed”. I didn’t understand what was “wrong” with me and I didn’t know what the adults thought I was supposed to get out of the “resource” class I was in. It didn’t feel like there was “a goal”. It would be another eight years before I got the diagnosis that changed anything for me.

It was the one that actually provided information to me. The one that helped me to understand “what was wrong”, that I had strengths just as I had weaknesses, that I wasn’t dumb, stupid, damaged or just always wrong. It was the one that let me be able to starting standing up for myself. It was the diagnosis that gave me accommodations in classes (I was in college when this happened). And It was the one that allowed me to gain some self-confidence, to believe that I might be successful in something, the ability to feel a little tiny bit less confused, ashamed, guilty and hopeless. I have no way to tell you if I would have felt and looked at school, myself or life differently if I had grown up knowing about and understand my Learning Disability, I can tell you that learning it as an adult was at once comforting, heartbreaking and devastating.

Looking back now somehow challenges and hardships in the school years look different; it’s not that you forget them or even necessarily feel different about yourself but they get blurry as the years go by. The importance of school somehow changes. As an adult I know that all grades levels in all schools are regimented in what they teach in subject and that it is done in a regimented way; it is not made for a student with any Learning Disability. It may never be. I suppose this is why all of the emphasis is on the school years though. It’s probably also why I was more successful in college.

What I know about my living with my learning disability is that the cliché isn’t true; in school all the focus was on what I couldn’t do (because curriculums are designed for “normal” students) and once I was an adult and out of school…The myth says that once we’re out of school an LD child will no longer fail all the time. Only it’s not true because I haven’t changed, I still have the same Learning Disability and I still struggle with the same processes I did in school. The difference is it no longer has to be the focus of your life. If you go into a career where your weaknesses are minimized and the things you are good at are the things you do, your learning disability will only be 50% of your daily struggle instead of 100% of it. (Calculations may vary by person). Haha.

With my Learning Disability I still have constant frustration, constant distraction, frequent times of information overload, and constant doubt and failure.

I wish I could tell you I felt like my learning disability has had some type of benefit or strengths. I have never felt that way. I have never understood calling it a “difference” or “gift”. That has not been my experience with it. In the years after my (adult) diagnosis I wanted to find a way to share my negative experiences and hard lessons. Not for sympathy but for others lives or the people in them. I hope that one day I will be able to say that became the benefit of it.

So, this is the overview of my life with my learning disability. I have left the details and feelings out on purpose; they are difficult to get across in writing.

Thank you for listening to my ideas and experiences. I appreciate and have enjoyed our conversations very much.

Thank you, Anonymous, for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts!

Please visit the Headstrong Nation Facebook Page, follow us on Twitter at @headstrongnatio, and check out our videos on our YouTube Page. Thanks for being a part of our community!

- The Headstrong Nation Team

A lovely young college student named Abby contacted us a few months ago to share her appreciation for Headstrong Nation and our work in the dyslexic community. We were interested in learning more about Abby’s experiences as a college student with Dyslexia, and our interview with her follows.

Headstrong Nation: Tell us a little about your academic life before you were identified with dyslexia.

Abby: I feel like I have always liked school; I really have. I liked learning things and being in the classroom with my friends. I always wanted to please my teacher, which I guess made things easy on my parents. I honestly wanted to do well in school because I wanted my teachers to think highly of me. I had a lot of trouble with writing, and because we were young everything was handwritten, not typed. We had to write these journal entries, and I always had such a hard time with them. I had a really hard time remembering which way the letters went, and spelling was something I was certain I would never understand. As time went by, reading became a huge problem, too. I could see the words, and I could read them fairly well, but I had a really hard time understanding what was going on in the story. It was a comprehension problem. My mom and I once read the same book, and when we finished, each of us came out with two very different stories. As school continued math got harder, reading got harder, understanding text got harder, and it seemed like everything was taking me ten times more effort than it took everyone else. Grammar was the hardest. I mean, if I could barely understand the words themselves, then how on earth was I going to understand how to place commas, use proper sentence structure, and all that other nonsense?

Headstrong Nation: After you were identified with dyslexia, was it freeing in any way to know that what you were experiencing actually had a name?

Abby: Having a disability with a name wasn't freeing to me; it wasn't much of anything. It was a lot more like, “well at least people can’t say I’m stupid.” There was always the assumption that I was dyslexic. I showed lots of the classic signs when I was kid, and it was easier to say, “I'm dyslexic” to my peers than “I have a learning disability that relates to my processing and sequencing of things.” People tended to have an idea of what being dyslexic meant rather than my long official title before identification. By the time I was officially identified, I had already come up with a huge number of coping strategies, so I can’t even say that having a name for it meant that other people knew how to help me. I always knew how to tell people what I needed for them to help me.

Headstrong Nation: How has your college experience been so far?

Abby: Academically, college has been great! I am doing better in college than I did in high school. I disclosed my needs to the school upfront, and they have been super fantastic about the whole thing. I chose this school after attending an open house here when I was a senior in high school. I took a tour and I walked up to the student services table and told them what my needs were and what my head looked like from a learning perspective. A college representative looked at me and said, “I've seen lots of students with things like this. We have lots of tools to help you, if you reach out to us." I applied to this school because of that interaction, and they have held true with their promise. I love being here. My professors, who are all Psychology professors, understand and respect my disability. They challenge and inspire me to the extent that I go out and do my own research and come back all excited to share what I have found! (I am a total nerd sometimes, but if I hadn't done so much research I wouldn't be writing to you now!)

Headstrong Nation: What are some of the favorite tools that you use?

Abby: I have a plethora of tools. My favorite is spell check, with an added twist my dad told me to try. Spell check will tell me I have a word wrong, then I mess around with it to see if I can make it correct, if I can’t after 60 seconds or so, I then fix it by having spell check do it. Often I find that I know the correct letters are there, but not what order they go in, so this helps a lot. Also, having access to a keyboard has been my saving grace. At 20 years old, when writing by hand, I still sometimes write backward. Having a keyboard limits my mistakes to spelling and spacing. Having access to audio books is another tool that has saved my life as student. I haven’t needed to use them as much in college, but in high school audio books were what got me through most of my reading assignments and some of my free reading too.

Headstrong Nation: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy?

Abby: I love to scuba dive. I took SCUBA in college to fill my physical education requirement and loved it. I was certified in September 2013. This was a challenge for me because I had to be able to read charts, and understand them, because, well my life could depend on it, and that made it a great motivator to keep practicing! Dive tables are really simple in theory,but I have a really hard time with them because there is such an importance in making sure they are correct. They measure the amount of nitrogen in your system, and let you know how deep you can go and when you need to return to the surface. Through scuba, I have made friendships and learned a great new skill!

Abby diving pic.PNG

Image of Abby courtesy of Ian Giouard. Used with permission.

(This is me on a group diving trip in Dutch Springs PA June 2014 (It was so HOT in all that gear!)

Headstrong Nation: How did you find out about Headstrong Nation?

Abby: I am a Junior in college right now, and one of the electives I took this semester was Psychology of Reading. In class we talked about how we read, and what happens in our minds while we read. We came to a section on reading impairments and I was so excited because dyslexia is something I obviously understand. We watched your video Headstrong Nation: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and ADHD. I honestly feel anyone who has been identified as dyslexic should watch it. I cried while watching it. I experienced such a wide range of emotions. I think the biggest feeling was one of community. I never felt that I was missing out on being part of something. I was just me. It was eye opening to see other people experience the same frustrations and to use some of the same outlets. I would love to be able to reach out to other people who are looking to connect through your Facebook page. I think my motivation comes from how much I love talking to people, and if I could help someone, or their parent, understand more, that would be fantastic!

I currently have a blog, which is up and running again after a many year hiatus. I started it just as a verbal rant when I was twelve years old after a terrible experience with a relative trying to help me with a math lesson. While they meant well, I walked away from that lesson feeling more confused and upset because I felt stupid. The good that came out of that experience though, was that I felt inspired to speak out, and my blog, “I’m Dyslexic not Stupid” was born.

Headstrong Nation: What are your future dreams, goals or career aspirations?

Abby: Oh gosh, I have lots of dreams and ideas and goals. I really want to hold a sloth! But more seriously, I keep telling everyone that I am going to be the "House" of the Psychology world. I really want people to come to me when everything else has fallen apart. I want to finish my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and then continue on to a Masters in Behavior Analysis. I want to get married, have a family, buy a house, the standard American dream.

Headstrong Nation: Thanks for sharing your story with us Abby! We are glad that you are part of the Headstrong Nation community!


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